[When considering the question of God’s existence] what we are looking for is the very foundation of all rationality; we are inquiring into how its light can be perceived… there is one fundamental point that seems obvious to me: where everything, and the foundations of everything are involved, the one who endeavors to comprehend is inevitably challenged to get involved with the totality of his being, with all the faculties of perception he has been given.
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 90
Reflection – So who knows if God exists or not? And really, does it matter? Who cares, anyhow? It’s irrelevant, right? We’re born, we live, we do stuff, we die. Whether there’s some Sky God up there looking at us is kind of unimportant, don’t you think? What difference does it make?
So goes the reasoning of at least some people today. We can’t know, and it doesn’t matter anyhow. Party on! Or, do whatever else you think makes for a good life. Ratzinger points out in the course of the above essay (which is superb, and from a superb (and short!) book) that of course this only seems to leave the question unsettled. In fact, such people proceed to live as functional atheists. Agnosticism may be intellectually possible—and in a certain sense we are all agnostics, since no one has ever seen God—but in practical terms one lives as a believer or as a non-believer.
Somehow, one never meets a determined agnostic who then concludes that he or she should pray every day and follow the moral law assiduously ‘just in case’. No, agnosticism always yields a lifestyle of practical atheism, ignoring God even if He does exist, because we’re just not certain.
This is funny, if you think of it. If I have reason to think there’s a big mean dog, say, inside a house, but I’m not sure and the evidence of this dog’s presence is inconclusive… well, I won’t just barge into the house as if I’m quite sure there’s no dog there. So if we entertain the possibility that there might just be a big (if not mean!) God in the house, why in the name of all prudence would we spend our lives ignoring such a possible being?
I mean, why not pray and ask this God to reveal Himself more clearly. Or ask Him to make his intentions and thoughts known vis a vis yourself? If you’re truly an agnostic and not an atheist, wouldn’t this be the sensible course of action?
Anyhow, this is, believe it or not, the point Ratzinger is making above in somewhat scholarly language. The question of God is not some abstract intellectual puzzle. The question is rather whether or not there is a Being who fashioned all reality, who is the Lord of all reality, and who therefore has absolute power over all our lives. It’s a question of everything—the difference it makes is the difference of… well, everything. It’s hard to start narrowing it down.
Either life is godless, and hence devoid of ultimate meaning (this is strictly logical), and therefore my only recourse is to live well according to what feeble light I possess (but even there, where did that light come from? What do I mean when I say ‘live well’? If there’s no God, doesn’t it all just collapse into ‘do whatever the hell you want’?), or the other possibility is true. There is a God, this God establishes the heavens and the earth and bestows His meaning and truth upon it. Therefore, the whole point of my life is to find out God’s meaning and truth and conform my choices and behaviors to it.
Surely this question is not abstract or meaningless. Instead, we must engage the question, as Ratzinger says, with the totality of our being and all the faculties of perception we have been given. Agnosticism is at best a transitional phase, at worst a cop out, atheism lacking the courage of its lack of convictions. Our human dignity demands something better from us—a true, searching engagement with ultimate questions about ultimate reality.